As we approach the festive break, I’m “in sweet rejoicing” to report the delivery of one present on my Christmas List – the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has supported our call for greater protection for ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Starting in April, the CLG Committee undertook a thorough investigation into how the NPPF has influenced development since its publication, and this week published a hard-hitting but constructive report on how the NPPF can be strengthened. I gave evidence in June on how the environment, in particular ancient woodland, has fared, and the Committee pulled no punches in its questioning.
So it fills me with cheer to note that the Committee has taken on board our evidence stating that “We agree that ancient woodland should be protected by the planning system. Woodland that is over 400 years old cannot be replaced and should be awarded the same level of protection as our built heritage.”
The Committee has, at our behest, made a specific recommendation: “We recommend that the Government amend paragraph 118 of the NPPF to state that any loss of ancient woodland should be “wholly exceptional”.” This would bring ancient woodland up to the level of protection afforded to Grade 1 Listed buildings.
Furthermore the Committee has recommended “that the Government initiate work with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to establish whether more ancient woodland could be designated as sites of special scientific interest and to consider what the barriers to designation might be.” This is one of our key asks in our Enough is Enough campaign.
While the Committee shares the Government’s desire for growth, it still recognises the need for equal importance to be given to the natural environment, and I particularly liked the first bullet point (of only four) in the summary at the beginning of the report:
“First, we must take steps to ensure that the planning system delivers the sustainable development promised in the NPPF. We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension; that permission is only given to development if accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to support it; and that the planning system places due emphasis on the natural environment.”
The Government will, in the New Year, issue a formal response to the CLG Committee Report. We hope the clear and constructive recommendations will be taken up, and we would like to see a timetable for when the changes to the NPPF will be made. We firmly believe that given the cross-party nature of the Committee (agreement on the report was unanimous, said the Chair, Clive Betts MP) and the widespread recognition of ancient woodland’s importance, whichever party is in power should be ready to act on these recommendations. So I feel that we can end 2014 with one good present for the festive season courtesy of the CLG Committee, but I hope that increasing protection for ancient woodland will be in the Government’s and all parties’ lists of New Year resolutions…
Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Adviser